The xx at the Fillmore Auditorium, 6/3/13
Clad in black and appearing every bit as mysterious and guarded as their music implies, the xx stepped on stage, strapped on its gear and began playing "Try" from its sophomore album, Coexist. The siren-like drone from Jamie Smith's synthesizer set the tone for the night: The crowd may have been ready to hear some sexed-up jams (which much of the xx's music is certainly suited for), but the band was not going to turn this into an arena-sized makeout party. Sure, we'd get "Shelter," but we'd have to wait for it.
First, Smith and company -- vocalist/bassist Oliver Sim and vocalist/guitarist Romy Madley-Croft -- offered up a couple tunes from their self-titled debut, an album that wound up on many year-end best-of lists in 2010. "Crystalised," the best song Ian Curtis never wrote, came right after one of the album's sleeper tracks, "Heart Skipped a Beat." For a group that only has two records to its credit, the xx made the most of its abbreviated repertoire last night.
The outfit slowed and sped up songs, warping them (albeit tastefully) to the point that they became different tunes entirely. This was all predetermined, of course. There were no unexpected events at the show whatsoever; it's hard to imagine the xx turning its songs into organic tone poems, for instance.
What the audience got instead was more of a spectacle -- three players who showed little technical prowess or strong vocal ranges, but who have nevertheless dominated so many college radio playlists for the past three years. Thing is, the songwriting is so damn good that musical flights of fancy are hardly necessary, although there was one standout look-at-me moment when Oliver Sim set down his bass guitar, removed the mic from its stand and sang "Fiction." He appeared comfortable, unconcerned about the audience's response and completely absorbed in his own voice.
By the time of the fireworks display of the xx's best songs -- "VCR," "Night Time," "Shelter," "Islands" and "Infinity" -- which closed out the set, the men and woman on stage looked as though they'd barely broken a sweat. They were all composed and clean, delivering confessional lyrics like "I'm froze by desire" as though they were reading from someone else's diary. It was the most alluring and yet confusing thing about the show. Here were three musicians, famous for lyrics they wrote when they were still teenagers, singing songs that have touched something deep in so many people.
But when played live, that connection was overtaken by what can only be assumed was their dedication to being professional -- keeping emotion between the proverbial lines and letting the audience feel what they wanted. Maybe it's best that way. In times like this, when the zeitgeist seems geared toward oversharing, it's good to see a band reveling in restraint.
Personal Bias: The moment I saw the xx appear on stage in matching outfits, my Big Lebowski-tainted mind instantly screamed: "AUTOBAHN!"
Random Note: The xx's merch table included Denver-specific T-shirts commemorating last night's show. Nice touch.
By the Way: Even if you're not as familiar with the xx by name, you have likely heard the band in passing. The act's songs have ended up on the Great Gatsby soundtrack and an AT&T commercial featuring Apolo Ohno, and they've been sampled in a Rihanna song. Also, the xx love Beyonce! Here's proof.
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